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Interdependence as a Lifeway: Decolonization and Resistance in Transnational Native American and Tibetan Communities


Struggles for decolonization are not only national but also transnational and global. While decolonization projects are diverse, they generally call for both the undoing of colonization as a structure and the amelioration of its psychological and ideological effects. Native American communities have been waging resistance to settler societies in various ways for over 500 years. In the last 50 years, Tibetans in exile have mobilized a global project to resist Chinese occupation through the ‘Tibet movement.’ Native American religious traditions are rooted in a sacred relationship to the land, one’s community and the spirit world. The spirit world consists of the dynamic ‘life force’ immanent in all natural phenomena. Native American peoples cite an interdependent relationship to all natural phenomena as the fundamental logic driving the protection of sacred sites, sustainable ways of living and nationhood. Tibetan Buddhism combines land-based conceptualizations of relatedness to Buddhist philosophical concepts of ‘dependent origination’ –meaning that all phenomena are inextricably ‘dependent’ on one another—to theorize a unique form of interdependence. Buddhist ethics rooted in interdependence encourage empathy and compassion for all others, since they are ultimately an extension of one’s self. This dissertation analyzes the role of religion in the decolonization movements of transnational Native Americans and Tibetan communities living in the U.S. A core focus of many decolonization movements is resisting culture erasure through religious revitalization—the logic being religion constitutes the core values and traditions of a given community. When cultural identity is strengthened these communities are better able to resist colonial advances as well as practices of extermination. I ask, how does interdependence as a ‘lived’ tradition resist colonization as both a structure and ideology? In addition, how are these religious traditions informing global movements for decolonization? I argue that cultural regeneration—centrally in the form of religion practice—is a driving factor in resistance, if not sometimes the very practice of resistance. This research demonstrates that religious praxis not only resists cultural erasure and assuages colonization’s psychic/psychological effects but also regenerates Tibetan and Native peoplehood, contributing to their projects of sovereignty. Religious praxis heals and strengthens these communities but is also understood to create the material conditions for liberation—in essence, spiritual phenomena re-configures the material world—for example, through the ritual purification of karma or the purification of one’s body in the sweat lodge. The dynamic intersection of religion and politics in these movements provides a new perspective on social justice and humanitarianism, illustrating that the just and humane treatment of others is necessitated in world in which others are an extension of one’s self.

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